Friendship doesn’t always come naturally or effortlessly. Most of us need to work on it and think about it seriously. This is true for all intimate relationships; this is true very specifically in friendships with people with disabilities.

It’s no more difficult be a good friend or close relative of a person with a disability than anyone else. But sometimes it requires paying close attention to the deeper patterns and underlying assumptions that are corrosive, but not always obvious on the surface. Capableist stereotypes and misconceptions can arise in any relationship involving disability, not just hostile relationships. It is therefore important to consciously think about how to be a good friend of people with disabilities and avoid going off the rails despite good faith and the best of intentions.

Here are six tips for developing and maintaining real, healthy, and mutually fulfilling friendships with a person with a disability:

1. Support us when we insist that events and activities be fully accessible.

Limiting yourself to the most accessible stores and restaurants is often inconvenient. It can be especially difficult to plan social events for people when so few can accommodate a friend who uses a wheelchair. When you yourself don’t have to worry about accessibility, it’s easy to forget about it, even if your friend, office colleague, or brother has no choice but to care, all of you. days.

Forgetting or willfully ignoring accessibility can effectively exclude a loved one with a disability from the kinds of activities that enrich their life and your relationship with them. It is also extremely disrespectful to know that a friend needs accessibility and yet to plan an event in an inaccessible place. To the disabled person, this will likely be read as an insult, not just an oversight. Being a conscious and public advocate for accessibility –– and willing to systematically support this advocacy with your day-to-day choices –– also amplifies the social and economic pressure on businesses and other facilities to improve their accessibility, thereby furthering the goal of a barrier-free society.

2. Give us a bit of slack when we change or cancel plans.

Most people with disabilities are perfectly capable of doing much of the same things as people without disabilities. But many also have unpredictable conditions and force them to cancel plans with their friends and family. Over time, this can strain friendships, especially when a person with a disability repeatedly begs at the last minute before a planned night out, shopping trip, or family vacation reunion. Even close friends and family may begin to think that people with disabilities do not take their commitments seriously, or are lazy and weak – two of the main ableist stereotypes of people with disabilities.

A good friend will be understanding and appreciate that most people with disabilities do not “pass out” for no reason. In fact, most people with disabilities to hate having to cancel plans or not follow through on commitments because of their terms. It’s usually a lot more of a blow to them than to anyone else. People with disabilities often have to prioritize their health and well-being differently from others. So being flexible, suggesting alternatives and sincerely holding judgment when a person with a disability withdraws from their plans is one of the best ways to show yourself not only accepting their disability in the abstract, but also genuinely supporting them as that friend.

3. Listen without judging when we have something difficult to say.

Hearing about the daily personal issues of a friend or relative can be boring, repetitive, and depressing. Stories of discrimination, lack of access, or abuse can be even more annoying because you feel like there is nothing you can do to help. Sometimes the concerns and complaints of a person with a disability can also seem exaggerated or misinterpreted because they seem so extreme and unfamiliar from your own experience.

Everyone should be able to express their true experiences and feelings from time to time. If a person with a disability cannot share their most difficult times with close friends and family, who can they share them with? One of the most consistent forms of ableism that people with disabilities experience on a daily basis is that people doubt what they say or do not take it seriously. So even if there are a lot of problems, you will not be able to solve for a friend or relative with a disability, the gift of unconditional acceptance and validation is often more than enough to make a real difference.

4. Don’t try to make us interpret our experiences the way you think they are.

It can sometimes seem like people with disabilities make embarrassing situations worse by always interpreting people’s words and actions in a negative light. It can be tempting to think that you can improve the outlook for a friend or relative with a disability by explaining how a bad experience can be interpreted more positively. There is still a persistent ableist idea that people with disabilities are less self-aware and less able to rationally analyze difficult situations on their own.

Keep in mind that while being generous and forgiving sometimes helps a person with a disability cope, there are also benefits to noticing and “naming” negative and ableistic behaviors and experiences. Most people with disabilities see both the negative and the positive sides of situations and arguments about disability. Most do not really need their experiences to be explained or reinterpreted for them by able-bodied people. Furthermore, it is insulting and disempowering for people with disabilities to have their perceptions invalidated or their experiences of disability explained by people without disabilities – even when they have good intentions.

5. Follow our example on using humor and self-deprecation.

When you feel that your relationship with a person with a disability is strong, relaxed and comfortable, you might think that you can make fun of them about their disability in a way that you wouldn’t think of doing with a stranger or a disabled customer. People with disabilities themselves sometimes use self-deprecating humor about their own disabilities. Some people with disabilities use humor to lighten the mood and cope with their difficulties. Others use it to put others at ease and to “fit in” socially. Funny people who “don’t take themselves too seriously” may be easier to like.

Over time, however, the repeated disability jokes and half-serious complaints about being a “slow poke”, a “klutz” or a “spaz”, or always “getting in the way. Can become toxic, even when they are supposed to be. safe. It can be even worse when those jabs come from friends and relatives than when they come from strangers. So while humor can be fun and bond with friends and family, be very careful to read how disability jokes and “mild” harshness really affect your loved one with a disability. Ask them what they honestly think and follow their example.

6. Speak and advocate with us, not for us.

People with disabilities are often described as vulnerable people who need advocates to be their “voice”. It’s easy to get emotionally involved in defending a loved one with a disability. The situations you defend are often high stakes, even life and death issues, with no time to waste. So it can be very tempting to step in and take charge of advocacy efforts for a person with a disability, if you think you will be more efficient and effective than them.

Most people with disabilities actually have at least some experience with self-advocacy, and are good at it as well. Whatever the specifics of a particular advocacy situation, the underlying question is always whether a person with a disability has recognized their respect and free will. A specific advocacy victory achieved by suffocating and diminishing the disabled person involved is an empty victory at best. There are miles of difference between talking for and more than a person with a disability, and adding your assistance and voice to theirs. People with disabilities need allies ready to follow and support them, no more strategic spokespersons to lead them.

Of course, the responsibilities of friendship are not one-sided. People with disabilities themselves have the same responsibility to be good friends, colleagues and family members. And ableism can distort the instincts and habits of both disabled and non-disabled people.

But if you’re serious about being a good friend of a person with a disability in your life, it’s your responsibility and theirs to make sure the relationship is as equal and rewarding as possible. It’s not too complicated, but it takes conscious effort.

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